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tv   Charlie Rose  WHUT  January 20, 2010 9:00am-10:00am EST

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>> charlie: welcome to the broadcast. tonight a charlie rose special edition. in our fourth episode of our brain series we look at the social brain. >> many aspects of social behavior, one of the striking things we're going to hear about is some aspects of social behavior are determined by individual genes that have profound effects on how we act, how we bond together as individuals, degrees of aggression and other things. >> charlie: the fourth episode of charlie rose brain series underwritten by the simons foundation coming up. their mission to advance the frontiers of research in the basic sciences in mathematics.
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if you've had a coke in the last 20 years, ( screams ) you've had a hand in giving college scholarships... and support to thousands of our nation's... most promising students. ♪ ( coca-cola 5-note mnemonic ) captioning sponsored by rose communications >> charlie: tonight we continue our journey to the most exciting frontier of science, the brain. our subject this evening is how
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the brain controls social behavior. more so than any other species. humans are social beings. we depend heavily on each other for safety, survival and companionship. over the course of evolution humans have adapted not only to a natural world but also to a social one. tonight, we will outline the social skills that separate humans from other species. we will learn how the brain reads facial expressions to determine the thoughts and emotions of others. we will ask what science can teach us about empathy and violence, and we will examine how social skills are compromised in the mysterious disease of autism. for centuries the study of social behavior was left to artist and philosophers. but in the past 150 years, biology has emerged as an important tool for understanding the social brain. some of the earliest insights
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into this were provided by none other than charles darwin. he proposed that social traits could be passed down through evolution much the same as physical traits. expanding on his theory of natural selection, darwin argued that emotions are crucial 2509 survival of the species. unfortunately not all of our social behavior is positive. we will analyze violence and aggression. some day science may offer hope for understanding anti-social behavior. joining me this evening, a remarkable group of scientists who have devoted their careers to understanding the social brain. they are cornelia bargmann, studies a genetic control of social behavior in simple animals such as worms and flies. she is also a professor at rockefeller university. kevin pelphrey, his work uses brain imaging techniques to understand social perception and cognitions. he is an associate professor of
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child psychiatry at yale university. jock mow rizzolatti, in 1996 he discovered a special group of cells known as mirror neurons. they are thought to play many crucial roles in social interaction. she's a professor at the university of parma, italy. gerald fischbach his research is devoted to understanding autism a disease that robs victims of their social slls. he is a professor at columbia university and the director of autism research at the simmons foundation. and also my good friend and cohost dr. eric kandel. he has been a good friend to this broadcast. we could not do it without him. he has been the person who has linked our curiosity to an extraordinary amount of research and extraordinary amount of achievement in understanding the brain. so i begin with this question in
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this episode. social brain. tell me what we mean by that. >> as you pointed out very nicely in your introduction. we are social beings, we find a partner to build a family, to build a community and build a culture. as you indicate, aspects of that can go into disarray and lead to aggression. social behavior is so important that it is conserved in evolution and you find it not only in people but you find it in simple animals, such of which ants build complex societies. although much of social bevior is learned, important aspects of it are determined by genes. for example, you can show in flies and in worms and in simple mouse-like animals, that single genes control bonding, whether
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animals will hang together, they go their own way. so genes can have important influences in behavior. more than, as you indicated with the social brain, social functions are localized in the brain just as sensory functions and motor functions ar in fact, we see in the social brain that there are sensory areas and the motor areas. in sensory, the visual system is very important. faces as you pointed out, extremely important reading other people's emotions. so there are face areas in the brain that respond not only to faces but to emotional expression of faces. there are areas in the brain that responds to the perception of motions. there's one area that involves response to all motion. mechanical motion, movement of a car as well as the movement of view when you're playing golf. there's another area this feeds into that's specialized just for social motion. it only responds to biological motion, to you playing golf, to
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somebody walking, to somebody shaking hands. it does not respond to mechanical motion at all. moreover, as you pointed out, parts of the motor systems are committed to social behavior. we made this wonderful discovery there are areas of the motor system that responds when the monkey picks up a glass of water. that's not surprising. the motor system is designed to pick up a glass of water. but the amazing thing is, same cells in monkey respond when you, charlie rose, pick up a glass of water. so they are mirroring your your behavior. so capacity of another person is mediated through motor system. we look at all of this by looking at the emotnal brain. >> charlie: autism. we lo learn of the brain often through disease. what do we know about autism. >> that's a disturbance in social interaction. we know incidences are
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increasing in parts because we are diagnosing it more. and we know a number of interesting features about autism. for example, kids with autism are inward directed. and when they look at one another, they don't look at the other person's eyes. one of the characteristic features of autism is they turn away from looking at the eyes. so if you look at a normal image, you look at a normal person and autistic person looking at the same image, a blond woman you see the normal person focuses on the eyes and nose. the autism person casts their eyes downward, does not focus in the eyes, does not focus on the mouth. yorba havior. you can tell by watching the eye motions is disturbing interaction. one of the amazing things about
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autism is some small but very interesting fraction of kids with autism are very talented and they can draw remarkably well. could we have the next visual, please. >> charlie: oh nadia. >> you know this stuff, charlie. this is a drawing of a horse done by nadia when she was five years old. she couldn't talk, had very poor social directions but she could draw a horse that would jump off the page. i compared this horse to leonardo da vinci. if you take a normal eight year old child they draw a stick figure of a horse. what is so fantastic is pablo piccasso pointed out there is no me cause sos, there are many mozarts. many kids start composing at a very early age. mathematicians can start early.
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piccasso could not draw a horse like that when he was five years old. so despite the fact that they are compromised in some ways, kids with autism can have aable strength. and i that supports a point that's emerging in a number of these programs that howard gardner has made that there are multiple intelligences. you can be very strong in some things and weak in other and conversely you can have serious compromise of function and do very well. >> charlie: this is charles darwin book, the expression of the emotions in man and animals. darwin was amazing. >> amazing man. he was without a doubt the most important biologist who ever lived. he not only formulated the theory of evolution, but he realized that behavior evolved.
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so behavior evolves. you can see examples of human behavior in simpler animals. since emotion is an important emotion of behavior you can see expressions of emotions in animals and you can detect that. moreover, he looked around at different groups of people living throughout the world and he realized that they all have a fixed number facial expressions. six or serve that expressed it for emotions and those are con served so if you're living in the orient or in america you express the same emotions exactly the same wake through facial expressions. >> charlie: that is an extraordinary idea and we explore the social brain with our group of experts. understanding how this remarkable idea takes place in our brain. >> most animals, most living things spend at least part of their life in association with others of their own kind. and we know that even in the waive we talk about schools of fish or flocks of geese or hives
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of bees. groups of animals are often units that are traveling through time and areehaving together. so they have to recognize each other, they have to communicate with each other and they have to generate coherent behavior. so what eia wilson noted about the middle of the last century is that many of the social behaviors that animals have are recognizably similar to each other, related to each other. even in animals that are very different and very widely separated by evolution. and when you make an observation like that in biology, very often what it means is that there's an underlying genetics that's very ancient that is contributing to the same out put in lots of different animals. and that idea of taking different genes, that sort of flowing them through the different animals and using them for social behavior in a variety of animals is the idea that builds on the idea that there's a genetics of social behavior.
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now eia wilson himself was not a jeanette tice, that was not his concern but the idea grows out of the idea of common behaviors for different animals. the idea of biology for social behavior. >> fortunately, she is a geneticist and she's made a wonderful discovery about genes and social behavior. >> so if we could have a movie, i'm going to show you the organizism that my lab works on which is a very simple worm. and this worm is tiny and it lives in the soil it has a bacteria and has a number of interesting behaviors and one of them that's in the movie is a friendly one. if we look at a group of worms together the two little white worms are associating with ten other little black worms and they're gathered together in two little cluster of animals. most of the worms want to spend most of the time with other worms although sometimes they warned off and come back and
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join the group. this is not about food, there's food every it's not about mating, this is a family show. >> charlie: why do they prefer to be with each other. >> well, they accomplish certain things within the group. they create an environment that's locally better for themselves. and so they're actually solving certain problems in their environment within a group and that's what animals in general are doing when they create a social environment. so, but sometimes it's a good idea. what you see with most animals is that sometimes it's a good idea to be sociable and sometimes it's not. so for example, during mating season or spawning season you can find them together more or less. or one associates are more than another. the females form groups but the males don't. what we find in these worms is we can actually describe the different changes in behaviors based on genes. that some worms are social and
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other ones are more solitary. and we can describe the difference between them based on a single gene that varies between them. one that have a high level of activity of the gene will tend to spend less of theirime alone. worms that have a low level of activity will spend most of their time together. so we can actually trace ou differences between individuals. not just the overall broad things that everyone shares but even some of the systems for dialing behavior up or dialing a behavior down. >> charlie: you can see how this happens or why they happens. >> yes. it turns out that this particular gene is called mpr1 it's a neuro peptide receptor. it's part of a system that neurons use to communicate with each other in the brain. it's a particular system that lets groups of neurons that can be quite broadly scattered coordinate their activities. >> charlie: let's talk about primates and social interaction among primates.
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>> well, i think one mechanism which we discovered a few years ago is showing how monkeys interact one to another. and especially in this discovery of neurons show there's a specific way in which the animals and humans as well, we'll talk later about humans, have knowledge of it in other words there are these neurons which fire both, one you observe something or one you do the same thing. so the type of knowledge you get from them, it's completely different from that that you can get. so what you are doing inside my brain and becomes my behavior. so it's a specific type of link which cannot be substituted by any type of complicated thing. so you do something, enter inside my brain as a motor system and that's my experience.
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so somehow, we share the experience. that's the novelty. it's not only a way to understand because then there are many other ways in which we can study behavior. but this one has this unique stuff that somehow we share experiences. >> charlie: you did some neuron experiments with chimpanzees in 1996. >> yes, exactly. >> charlie: tell us about it. >> what you see here is experimental and here the action potential. action potential have the signal. so what you have to follow is simply to correlate what is going on the screen. and you will see every time the monkey drops an object, you hear the action potential. and then the strange thing is one person would do the same thing, you would hear exactly the same action potential. which is a trigger either by the
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monkey grasping or by the person grasping. the exact same thing. so it's kind of dialogue, you see or you hear. or you listen. >> charlie: so what social traits can mirror neurons account for? >> well i think this capacity to have a common experience, so the knowledge which mirror neurons provide, it's experiential. it's not the cognitive. i understand i'm in the bar and i'm grasping something. i can understand because i am thinking about oh well, if he is grasping he will think. i know immediately that i will drink. so that type of experience is shared immediately without interference. that's the formity of mirror neurons. >> the discovery of mirror
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neurons is one of the greatest discoveries in neuron sence it taught us several different lessons. one is as he indicated, is the appreciation that one has in one's brain, the capability of understanding another person's action. that when somebody does something, your owner vest systems carries on it's o, we think they're separate. this process information is occurring in his motor system. so a fraction of the cells involved in picking up this pencil will respond when you pick up your pencil. it's in the motor system where he discovered this remarkable thing. he made us realize that the motor systems have sensory capabilities.
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it's an extra event. >> charlie: what does it allow to do that nothing else allows to do. >> imitation. >> imitation. >> we have evidence. actually we are the only species which are good at imitating. we are the only species -- that's why we have culture. because what you discovered, i can imitate, eric can imitate and so we have culture. if we are unable to imitate we have no culture. monkey cou not do that. that's why we think in monkey's mechanism it is not for imitation but for understanding. it goes up our capacity. >> i think there's a very important issue here. you used the word understanding and giacomo, you've written about that several times. it's a signal which you
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discovered that's a an understanding of another individual's actions. i think that goes beyond mimicry to something. there's something very profound about how animals, people can communicate at a very deep level much. to me it's more than mimicry. >> it's really a sort of implicit mechanism that doesn't involve motor movements. it's not thought that maybe children learn aspects of language acquisition by seeing their mothers move their mouth. the mother's mouth. the child sees that and learns to do this intuitively. it's really a remarkable insight. >> so very much inspired by work in profession rizzolatti's lab and others, looking at the monkey using single cell recordings. we're interested now in understanding these mechanisms in humans. and so humans, the facility to
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socially perceive others is quite extraordinary. it's automatically and unconsciously. the we look around as we're sitting around this table, we're able to understand the motives of others individuals, the psychological dispositions, their intentions everything their actions, etcetera. so we're interested in how do we do this in humans. these are some areas of the brain that are involved in social perception and i wanted to highlight one region that we've been studying quite a bit in our laboratory, the superior temple region and put it in reference to highlight it in blue. you put it in reference to two regions that giacomo tald about in terms of neuron regions and regions that processes emotions. one of the things we discovered is that this area here in yellow, responds very strongly to motion. well, it responds to just about any type of motion, okay. so we shared four different types of motion, two biological, two non-biological. and i said biological motion,
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that means something very simple. looking at how people are walking, pointing, where you're looking, etcetera. all of these things are very very queues for social perceptions. so i can understand that where you're looking is where your interest currently lies. that's where your attention is lying. that is a brain range that responds strongly to four different types of emotion. we showed the triple region here responded strongly to by logical motions compared to non-biological motions. so at this point in the visual stream, this region is making this fundamental categorical distinction between what is out in the environment that's biological and something to paid attention to because it demanded a different way of interacting can provide you clues about social perception versus things that are mechanical. and it's important then to sort of take this to humans, and i think also back into monkeys
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which we were talking about imitation. many so the way we're thinking about this is on the one hand, what i'm telling you is that there's this exquisite localization of functions or social processing region here in the posterior temporal sulcus region. we think these work together. in a sense the mirror neurons are representing the action of reaching. we are doing this simulation type of computation and they're getting you to mimicry. this information is meeting back into the superior temple sulcus which is to tell these other regions that this is biological versus non-biological motion. this process is happening whereby this region is integrating the context of that action. understanding i'm reaching to the glass. understanding integrating the notion that i might be thirsty, etcetera. so it gets you to the intention
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of the action, okay, instead of simple mimicry. the last thing i wanted to mention about the sulcus, i wanted to bring us to autism. one of the fundamental goals of this is to try to understand why children with autism how difficult it is perceiving other people's intentions in particular and their actions. one experiment we did, we showed children with autism in typically developing kids, children with autism you're typically developing children. we show biological and non-biological motion. they are responding which is perfectly normal time and time again. those children are doing quite complex processing. this motion processing area is an extraordinary complex visual pathway and computations. but when you get to the
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biological motion region, only the typically developing kids responding to the biological here in red versus the non-biological in blue, differentially see the kids with autism are treating these two stimulating things equal. their biological motion processing region. >> charlie: as we go through the episodes i'm hearing common themes. one is localization, the cutting engine 06 where brain research is going is understanding where localizations are. the other two sort of as we're discussing here both genetic and environmental and where those come. >> right. >> charlie: and the third thing that i find is how complex all of this is so that if you really want to go really understand it, you have to go to begin with genes where you can isolate. these are commonnallities. >> that's why it's so important to have different experimental models. the worms court or works on is
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understanding how genes control the logic of neurocircuitry. she's finding terrific because they're the closest things to humans and non-human primates so you can study complex things which are mirror neurons. this is the these different experimental animals. each one can give you a different insight into important biological problems. but thers one other thing of point that i think is important. these are very difficult problems. we're at the beginning of understanding any one of them. so it's really in the last decade or two that the social brain is really emerged in terms of dissecrete subcomponents. >> in the last decade. >> charlie: we understand a lot by looking at the disease of autism. >> this is also a theme throughout every session of the program, that basic science has taught us a lot about han disorders or predictments. but conversely it's the human
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predicament that has told us ormously about science of the brain. we talked about this in the very very first show and no where is that illustrated more profoundly than in autism and related developmental disorders. autism runs the spectrum between normal behavior and the other end of the spectrum, really compromised severely compromised individuals. i want to begin this brief introduction by talking about leo canner, a man who grew you in vienna about a generation before eric. >> if possible. [laughter] >> in this highly prolific area. >> [laughter] >> he was born in vienna and educated in berlin and came to this country in 1924. ended up in johns hopkins in the early 30's, and wrote a paper in
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1943. very classic paper entitled autistic aspects of disorders. he borrowed that term from the scrits friend yeah literature, the inward looking nature over some people with schizophrenia, they're totally introverted. i want to read you a few words of the description before showing you the video. in his first paper, he talked about 11 children, and one of them, donald, he realized was happiest when he was alone. drawing into his shell and living within himself, oblivious to everything around him. donald had a mania for spinning toys. he liked to shake his head from side to side. all of these illustrate some cardinal natures of autism. he h temper tantrums when his routine was disrupted.
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donald had explosive irrelevant uses of words and referred to him in the third person and repeated words which we now call ecolalia. and he communicated his own desire by speaking about himself in the third person. so it's this notion of the cardinal symptoms of autism being withdrawn from social contact, not taking part in empathetic play, joint play, mutual attention. looking at people and really engaging them by looking in their eyes. but there's also an element of repetitive behaviors, motor functions which at times are uncontrollable, bordering on the obsessive disorders. and then there are language issues about expression of language beyond the non-verbal communication. some of this i illustrated in video that i would like to show. actually there are two parts. a wonderful young boy and his
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mother. first at their home. they are planning now how to drive to school. and the young boy wants to go one route and his mother had planned to go a different route. and what you see here is the absolute resistance and the repetitive, almost uncontrolling insistence on going this one particular route. just repeating over and over again that it's tuesday, he must go in this particular route. >> on tuesday. >> honey, last night, what day were we talking about. >> on tuesday. >> on wednesdays. >> maybe ontuesdays. i want to on tuesdays. >> we're going to take it on wednesday. today we're going to take the boulevard. >> now you may say you've seen your own children behave this way.
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but this is a pattern of repeated extreme behaviors, which can be incapacitating. what i want people to notice here is how wonderful his mother is and how she, how patient, how she works with him and how he will calm down and move on. it's degree not simply qualitative behaviors. this is a predicament that many people are facing today. autism is a prevalent disorder. the most recent estimates are one in 100 children in this country are born. here she reaches out to touch him and they'll move on. and now you'll see him in the classroom where he's calmer but the hallmarks of autism are here. he's repeatedly patting his hands, slapping his hands. a child will do that on occasion but not to the extreme that he does throughout this video.
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he is not paying attention to what's going on in the front of the room in the classroom because i believe his mother is sitting right behind him calming him down from moment to moment. here he's flapping his hands. he's a wonderful attractive young boy who we hope will improve with time and will become more socialized but right now is quite withdrawn from everything going on around him. >> charlie: why? >> well, there are many clues to causes of autism. much of it in the last four or five years. i think most people if you approach them would say that they believe genetics, genes and behavior, that genes play an enormously important role here. i do not for a minute want to rule out environmental factors but there's one startling fact everyone has to appreciate. when you look at identical
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twins, the same genetic make up. if one of the identical twins has autism, the chances are 90%, nine out of ten times that identical twin will become autistic. there is not any other disorder that i know that has that high a concordance between identical twins. and that has convinced many people that the quickest route to understanding autism from a mechanistic point of view will be to focus on the genetics. >> charlie: if we can identify those genes, then what can we do. >> so charlie, here's where the challenge is. i just wish that the geneticists would hurry up and tell us what these genes are and stop -- >> slowing us down. >> but everyone knows that when we do that, when we are have the genetic landscape, when we understand what the genetic risk factors are, then we have to find out where in the brain
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these genes are working. when in the brain they're operative. is it prenatal during the first, second or third trimester of birth or is it in certain critical periods later in development? there's evidence that some autism follows a pattern of regression. children develop normally for period of time. although this is a strong debate in the literature. but it may be that there are different critical periods. autism is not going to be a mple one gene one disease phenomenon. in fact, the best estimates i know suggest maybe more than 100 genes that enhance the risk of autism and they may act at different times in different ways. and that's what the challenge is. >> charlie: the most important thing identifying these genes or are they other things we're making dramatic progress in autism. because it is mething i heard more and more about over the last four or five years. is that because more cases or
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simply more understanding? >> i think the prevalence is increasing. if you look at the graphs, the reported prevance since 1985 is going up and up. used to be it was one in 5,000 and one in a thousand. thousand one in a hundred. if this is a genetic disorder, how can this happen? it may well be that there are certain environmental influences but i believe, i think many believe that there is an increase in the genetic risk. and autism is not inherited in the usual sense, if you think of it. autistic children don't often grow up to have families, large families. so why is it increasing? why isn't autism decreasing? and the thought is that there's a phenomenon called denovo, new mutations that happen every generation. when sperm and egg cells are
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developed, there are mistakes. not mistakes, there are changes that happen where you are a combination of your mother and father. for every protein in your body, you inherit one gene from your mother and one from your father to make up a pair. but that copying function is not precise. you're different from your mother and from your father. and from your siblings. and you're different because you don't copy all the dna exactly. there can be spelling mistakes or there can be middle pces of dna, submicroscopic chunks of dna which get deleted or duplicated. so you are different and we're all different from each other around the table due largely to these denovo mutations. >> charlie: another term. and talk about aggressive behavior. >> at the level of animals. animals have fights. and animal aggression or animal conflict is something that is
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well organized and has rules. it's a way that animals use to allocate scarce resources. so i'm going to show 250ed -- we've all seen movies on the nature channel with elks fighting each other for a female. these movies will show you simple animals, fruit flies can show aggressive behaviors. these are going to be two male fruit flies and they'll be fighting over a fruit supply. in the first very short clip you'll see one fruit fly decides the other fruit fly has to go. >> charlie: the next one. >> in the second video we'll see one male fruit fly decide that the other male fruit fly has really got to go. and i would like you to watch this movie to get a sense of the clear inttion of this fly's action. [laughter] >> charlie: what did we learn
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from this? [laughter] >> the important thing to learn is it fights to the death. when animals have this kind of an argument, there's a winner and there's a loser and the loser goes off to try and find another location to find some food. if these are two males, they might have been fighting about a female instead of fighting about food. but these are orderly ways of determining who gets to be dominant and who has to move on. and in fact, animals will remember this and they will change their behavior even pretty simple animals will remember who they lost the fight to. fish can figure out if they lost a fight to this guy and an even bigger guy beat up the other guy, the even bigger guy just don't in a logical intelligent way. there's work in animals told us something that there is really a
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biology that there are chemicals involved in the memory of being a winner and a loser. and that, for example, serotonin a neurotransmitter is particularly involved in correctly recognizing whether you've won or lost an argument. and so again this is a neurochemical that's present in the human brain. three some evidence that severe disruptions in serotonin systems caused disruptions in your ability to correctly learn and evaluate a situation where there's a potential aggressive interaction. >> charlie: go ahead. >> so it's really, it's thinking about this, you know, human aggression is much more complicated than animal aggression. again, but you have to recognize when you're working with biology and when you're working against it. and there are situations where aggression is going to be much more common than others. the since aggression is designed around a limiting resource, when resources are limited, there's going to be more fights. there's going to be more
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conflict and that's just going to be a basic rule no matter where you are. another thing we've learned from animal studies is how greatly aggressive behaviors are modified by stress. is so your brain under stress is a more different brain. >> charlie: to be more aggressive. >> to remember properly what your place in the hierarchy is and much more likely to lead to conflicts in the future. so these kinds of understandings how far biology can help you to evaluate what the causes of aggressive behavior might be. and how you can go about creating situations where those are more or less likely to occur. >> charlie: at some point you get into the very controversial area and people will suggest that the reason for some aggressive behavior of some theme behavior had something to do with biology rather than. and that's where the morality and ethics and science, am i right or wrong? >> absolutely.
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>> but it's complicated. we start from children, we learn throughout our lives what the right way is to act within our environment. we're educated for many years until we encounter each other and we learn that the football field is an acceptable place to give aggression under well defined circumstances. with protective head gear. and we learned other situations are incorrect situations in which to display them. >> i don't deny the aggression and everything you said about it in biology. but i think we are born to be good. >> charlie: that's the point i wanted to get to. >> i think we are born to be good. so for one, we have the exactly same feeling as if we had been in pain ourselves. in other words, we have a mechanism which is t same reaction. when we are in main or disgusted or one we see somebody else in the same condition. so seeing him in pain is as if i
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was in pain. so weave this link between emotion, practically the necessary that the other are happy. in the other are not happy i'm not happy. if he's happy i'm happy. that's the nature biological link that we're born with. then of course during life there are many conditions in which that could not be. we can be trained to become not good. but i think we have been born not like -- we are born to be good. there's the society and stress and all the difficulty which was mentioned make us to be bad. >> the great protestant theologian once said it makes democracy desirable. evil makes democracy necessary. >> very good point.
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>> a social custom often determines how we behave. the capabilities may in fact be the predominant built-in mode that we can be corrupted. >> charlie: corrupted by? >> by social pressure. by, you know, all kinds of constraints or by lack of resources. >> as you say, if you see someone in pain, you feel pain. but if you see someone angry, you start to feel defensive. good behavior around you can elicit positive behavior in yourself. problematic behavior around you can elicit problematic behavior in yourself. >> one point i want to highlight is that a lot of the mechanisms that we're talking about for social perception can be used for good or ill. i can try to understand other people's intentions because we want to help them and we hope that's what's going on. these mechanisms are extremely powerful if i want to compete with them. the car dealership and you're
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trying to stare down the dealer and figure out the best price on the car. you see in middle school, for example, a period where children try out all of these mechanisms of social perception. you see a great deal of bullying and aggression. think of it as the same underlying brain systems but being used in different ways and interacting with learning and what's appropriate and what's not. and also being regulated by other brain systems to do the right things instead of using the same mechanisms for figuring out how to do harm to other people. which they're just as good at. >> what you're saying is that these systems for social action are in turn controlled by other systems that are open to variety of social pressures that can convert from one goalo another. >> right. exactly. so for example when you talk about the switch to stress now you're using this system to figure out the best way to land
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a punch. >> charlie: in terms of difficulty and in terms of where we are in understanding the social brain, is it the one where we know the least, the most. is it the one where there are more questions. >> i think that's a difficult question to answer. i think that it's amazing how much you've learned in a short period of time. so i would say going from a relatively limited understanding, we've moved a long way. now we don't understand social behaviors as well as w understand visual processes. but people have been studying visual processing in a profound level for a very long time considering the fact that the number of people working on social behavior is more restricted and a relatively shorter period of time. i think the progress has been remarkable. moreover as sherry indicated if you take the diseases of all mankind, schizophrenia, bipolar, autism, i think we've got a lead
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in autism that the other disorders do not have. we have a common understanding and a beginning of trying to get the appropriate genes, including the idea that there are denovo mutations which in part came out of these studies. so i think we're doing quite well. none of these problems are going to be involved in the next 10 to 20 years. but we really have a strong beginning in getting a good understanding of autism and social disorders. >> charlie: i always ask two questions. what do you want us to take away from this, sort of in essence. and what is the one question you hope we can answer in the near term? >> charlie, what i want to take away is the notion that there's a biology that's profound and that we really have good handle to understand that. but always appreciating that there's an element of indeterminism here and of learning and plasticity and a graded -- great deal of hoping
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in learning the mechanisms. the real hope is they will be able to be used to alter pathological states. and there's very good hints in animal model of developmental disorders that once you do have a handle on some of the important genetic influences although it's not a sure thing, you may have a shot at reversing some of these phenomenas. my hope in leaving and thinking about this is that we will begin to understand how the genetics and the physical properties of the brain influence these important social cognitive phenomena. i think it's going to be more complicated than we think. it won't be strictly, may not be strictly localized to one region of the brain. the brain is an information machine, and we have to learn how that information is processed. but i think that it will be
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disorders like autism and related disorders that lead us to a deeper understanding of who we are as humans. >> charlie: kevin. >> well i think one of the things that i want everyone to take away is something we actually didn't talk much abo. >> charlie: that's why i asked a question. >> that's a future segment. that's really a developmental perspective on all this. the reason why autism is such a profoundly difficult thing to understand is development. we're talking about a neurodevelopmental disorder and things are changing constantly. and you take all of that into account. the question i want to address in that medium to short term is i think we're in a position where we have an understanding from genetics both clinical genetics and non-human primates who can take that information
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into human neuroarena and the social brain and why social brains development differently and the extreme, why does a social brain develop in the direction of autism. with that knowledge then we can design rational scientifically informed treatment approaches that would alter social brain development. and then ultimately alter the course of autism. i hope that occurs as quickly as possible. >> here we discussed it on one side of mechanism. like mirror. so you understand something in terms of mechanism. on the other hand, we have not spoken so much about theory of mind. so it's interesting that we have explanation ofany other diseases or of social behavior in terms of psychological terms, like theory. so my dream would be to explain the psychological term internal mechanism. because then the link with genetics would become much more
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easier and obvious. because if we say well the theory of mind is wrong, it's not going well. in a sense, we describe it in a more elegant way. >> we need to believe that some of the things that you identify are steps in understanding that. >> it's a step, exactly. but my dream is to arrive at a step which i think theory of mind is because it's the following mechanism. and because you don't aid something. not simply theory of mind is -- >> charlie: but they're of mind means what? >> theory of mind refers to a fact when we have a conversation we have a general idea where you're going. that you have your only way of thinking about a problem. autistic kids can't get into your brain. they don't understand that you have your own agenda which is different than their agenda. >> this is very profound. it's a matter of belief. when the children develop an idea about false beliefs that her people may believe things that are different than what
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they believe. it's different than a shared emotion. a young child will smile when you smile or they'll frown when you frown but they'll appreciate that the person you're looking at may be thinking about something that's different than what you're thinking about is a very late developing and very profound scale. >> an acute concept that we can relate back to aggression is understanding another person's belief may be different from yours. and different from what you know to be reality is your belief of what reality is. when those two things disagree that's an opportunity for conflict. >>he point toake away is our brains are not calculators where you punch in a bunch of numbers and you get a number out in the end. our brains are ourselves and they incorporate what's important and how we feel and they give you different kinds of responses. one of the most important things for us is each other. from the moment of our birth, the most important aspect ofur
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life is our aability to predict the behavior of others. this is what it is to be human. i would say that the question i would like to understand is how a biological system can do something so remarkable. >> charlie: well said. eric? >> i think there are two things that structor me that have come out of this discussion. one is how important it is for biology for our understanding of using a number of different experimental approaches, including different organisms. complexity from worms to non-human primates to people. i think this is essential. this comparative approach that is critical to understanding behavior, number one. and number two, given the fact that we are born to do good, but we're capable of evil. to understand better how one flips from one to the other. and to see it where we can
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prevent this tribalism and baracking a dominant force. isn't that wonderful if we had insight how to contain that. >> charlie: there you have it. an insight into the social brain. next month? >> next month we're going to consider the developing brain. we're going to look at how do kids acquire language. to what degree is this innate, to what degree is this learning. how do they acquire other skills everything how do they acquire mathematical ability, how do they develop the ability to tell space. how the logical process is develop. so we're going to look at all of these things. also we're going to see that there are a number of these modules of cognitive development that can be impaired by different diseases. so we're going to look at a fragile x syndrome, a number of really important disorders that affect different aspects of intellectual development in kids. >> charlie: i can't wait. see you next month. we'll talk about the developing brain.
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